- As we continue throughout the ebbs and flows of our work careers, we often ponder whether our jobs aid or hinder our life satisfaction and overall happiness.
- A frustrating boss, an irritating colleague, a boastful supervisor, an ignorant regulator, or a lying client contribute to reduced levels in our happiness.
- But as millions of formal and informal sector Kenyans jump from job to job seeking greater satisfaction and success.
As we continue throughout the ebbs and flows of our work careers, we often ponder whether our jobs aid or hinder our life satisfaction and overall happiness.
A frustrating boss, an irritating colleague, a boastful supervisor, an ignorant regulator, or a lying client contribute to reduced levels in our happiness.
But as millions of formal and informal sector Kenyans jump from job to job seeking greater satisfaction and success, many of us feel despondent when the work honeymoon period wears off and we realise that many standard job issues and problems can occur in any work environment.
Research by organisational psychologists and collated by Mark Travers shows three different pillars for attaining permanent work and life happiness: autonomy, sense of mattering, and age. First, organisational behaviourists from Derek Man and Simon Lam to José Geleilate and Stav Fainshmidt to Kenya’s own Fauziah Shani have long championed the corporate benefits of autonomy from granting employees greater decision making and work condition independence.
Benefits include boosting employee satisfaction and improving firm performance from higher profits, lower job turnover, less wastage, faster growth, and reduced costs. But, a separate breed of researchers, deemed ‘happiness researchers’, recently uncovered that autonomy stands as a key component to not just work happiness but also overall life happiness as well.
Paul Smeets, Ashley Whillans, and Rene Bekkers, among other colleagues, interestingly investigated how the uber wealthy spend their time compared to lower and middle-income working individuals. Surprisingly, in many ways, the ultra-rich spend their time in similar ways to regular average people.
But one noticeable difference came in that while both types engaged in leisure activities whereby regular people typically relax by passively watching television, YouTube, social media, and other passive activities whereby the rich pursue active leisure like driving on trips, playing instead of watching sports, etc. But the largest difference between the massively wealthy and normal people came in that the rich have more control over the type of work activities they undertake.
Both sets of individuals work hard, but the wealthy can choose how, when, and what they work on whereas lower and middle-income workers do not often have such luxury of choice. The greater autonomy found in rich individuals work life held substantially higher happiness benefits for their overall life.
Second, people also find permanent happiness by attaining a sense of mattering in their lives. Mark Travers calls a sense of mattering as the ability to have life meaning, fulfillment, and reflective happiness, such as setting realistic expectations and reaching our goals, which have profound long-term boosts on our happiness levels.
Ultimately taking that long anticipated multi-day bus ride from Nairobi to Cape Town and seeing all the sites along the way or finally finishing that master’s degree that you had put on hold over many years, as two examples, give a lifetime worth of satisfaction that boosts happiness long into the future.
Vlad Costin recommends that in order to reach a sense of mattering in one’s life, someone should strive to create a sense of order that makes sense of the world around them, have multiple life goals not only career goals and work towards achieving all those goals, and make a difference in one’s community or wider world around them.
The third aspect that contributes to permanent happiness may surprise Business Daily readers. Many may not realise, but older workers are the happiest with young workers the least happy, least optimistic, and least satisfied with their lives.
Ted Schwaba, Richard Robins, and Priyanka Sanghavi, among additional researchers, found that life optimism is at its absolute lowest point during someone’s 20s. Then over a lifetime, both optimism and happiness increase until plateauing at 55 years old before slowly starting to decline again. Men and women get happier as they get older and the youngest workers are actually the grumpiest.
The above age study is confirmed in a Kenyan context by brand new recent research conducted by USIU-Africa in partnership with Global Communities and funded by the United States Agency for International Development studied members of cooperatives and found, among numerous other findings, that 18 to 25 year old members of agricultural cooperatives are at the most optimistic points in their lives, but optimism falls off a cliff at 26 and until 35 years old, stays at the lowest points of optimism in a Kenyan’s entire life.
The reality of the world and realising that the hopes and dreams from childhood and early adulthood are harder to actualise seems to have a shocking negative affect. Then slowly by 36 optimism starts to increase peaking and plateauing at 56 until dropping off drastically at 75 years of age when optimism generally ceases in many cases.
So, grasp a moment and take stock of your own life happiness levels. Can you seek careers that grant you more autonomy in how you do your job? Will you be able to take concrete steps towards creating a sense of mattering? Is your happiness perhaps a function of your age and, therefore, you should know you are not alone?
Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor